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Memorial Monday – Uptown Shelby Explosion (NC)

Memorial Monday

Incident Date: May 25, 1979
Department: Shelby Fire Department (NC)
Number of Line-of-Duty Deaths: 4

On the evening of May 25, 1979, Shelby Fire Department and firefighters from surrounding communities responded to an investigation of smoke in a storefront in Uptown Shelby on West Warren Street. Firefighters arrived on the scene to heavy smoke showing in a commercial storefront, which quickly spread throughout the row and threatened the entire city block.

While firefighters worked to contain the blaze and protect exposures, an explosion, which they later believed to be a backdraft, occurred causing a building collapse. The collapse sent bricks and glass flying into the street. Earlier that evening, just before the call came out, firefighters had switched out to another American LaFrance engine that had the pump panel on its left side. The engineer who was on the pump panel that evening was shielded from the blast by the badly damaged engine.

Five were killed in the explosion and collapse: Lieutenant George Magness, Firefighter Nathan Hall, Firefighter Donald “Gene” Melton, Firefighter Floyd “Nick” Sharts, and Shelby Gas Department worker Max Bowling. Twelve other firefighters and over thirty of the fifty civilians who gathered at the scene were also injured. Shelby firefighters and over 230 firefighters from nearby communities worked tirelessly to extinguish the fire and worked through the night to rescue their trapped brothers.

After the fire, the department grew stronger and the community, which had been changed by the fire, rallied around its firefighters.

The uptown district suffered over 5 million dollars in property damage as a result of the fire. What was initially believed to be a gas explosion, was later determined to be arson.

In May 2019, the City of Shelby dedicated its Fallen Heroes Memorial at Raper-Roarke Park which includes Lieutenant George Magness, Firefighter Nathan Hall, Firefighter Donald “Gene” Melton, Firefighter Floyd “Nick” Sharts, and Max Bowling.

The uptown Shelby explosion on May 25, 1979, is largest single event line-of-duty death of firefighters in North Carolina.

Killed in the Explosion:

 

Max Bowling

Shelby Gas Department Worker Max Bowling
 

 

Scene photos © Lem Lynch Photography

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More About Memorial Monday

Memorial Monday is established to remember the sacrifice of firefighters who died in the line of duty before the National Memorial was created in 1981. On the last Monday of every month, a firefighter, or groups of firefighters, will be remembered through information located about the firefighter and their sacrifice.